Monday, November 17, 2014

Thirty Days of CCS, Day 17: Max Mose and Dakota McFadzean

Max Mose is one of the few CCS grads to specialize in horror comics. He is unique in that his take on horror and genre in general is brutally and pointedly satirical, creating comics that are frequently as funny as they are disturbing. His adaptation of Bram Stoker's short story The Judge's House is actually more straightforward than usual from Mose in terms of subject matter, though his own attitude towards elites is still plain as day. The story follows an arrogant young student who takes up residence in a decrepit, creepy house in order to have the proper amount of time and space to study philosophy. With a gloomy, slightly vibrating line and droopily-drawn characters, the story resembles something Edward Gorey might have drawn. The young man soon learns that a particularly vicious judge lived in the house and that he is not entirely departed from the premises, initially emerging as a huge, vicious rat. From there, there are all sorts of spills and chills that lead to our protagonist's untimely and mildly ironic end. Mose milks that drama for all it's worth while playing up the general arrogance and cluelessness of the young man; it's not so much that he deserves to die, but he's not an especially likable character. He's oblivious, arrogant and out of touch, and those qualities are what ensures his doom. Mose's figure drawing has never been better than in this comic, but his lettering was shaky. No doubt that was a function of adapting someone else's prose, but there were spots where the lettering being crammed into a too-small panel was a genuine distraction.

Dakota McFadzean, on the other hand, doesn't write explicitly about horror, yet his comics frequently have a quietly horrific quality to them. As opposed to Mose's critiques of modern, urban society, McFadzean's comics are meditations on the desolate loneliness of the country. In particular, he's interested in telling the stories of outsiders and the ways in which they seek to transcend their surroundings. He doesn't lionize them, however; the lead character here, Mary, is selfish, insensitive and immature. This pre-teen takes her best friend, Arnold (a fellow outsider), for granted. Mary struggles to come to terms with the excitement that her imagination brings her, especially with regard to play. This story nails that weird time when children start to become self-conscious about play and make-believe lest they be considered weird, and it's Mary's dedication to the idea of their being a guardian spirit in the woods that's been silenced by evil ("the Dark Empty") that shines through despite her own disbelief. That spirit is represented by an animal skull she finds in the forest; there's an especially arresting image where she tries the skull on as a mask and then goes to school late to find all of her classmates and teacher wearing animal masks as part of an art project. It's an image both jarring and amusing, which is precisely the tone McFadzean aims for in many of his stories. If the ending is a bit on the pat side, it's at least an emotional connection that feels entirely earned through Mary's attempt to redeem herself for her callousness with regard to her friend.

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